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Sabbatical, 2004
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The Mail Must Go Through (mustn’t it?)

July 28, 2012

Raise your hand, anyone, if you remember this:  Canada Post promises “Next Day Delivery – anywhere in Canada,” and actually makes it happen most of the time.

Let’s see, how many raised hands do we have?  Uh-oh, not many.  And most of you have grey hair.

So, for you youngsters, this really did happen.  Our Canadian postal service actually gave next day service from pretty much anywhere in Canada, to pretty much anywhere else in this vast land. 4  And it was regular lettermail too, not something special for which you had to pay a premium!  I know.  I remember.

Mail was mostly handled and tracked by hand in those days, and records were on paper.  Computers, with all their promise of great speed and efficiency, had not yet begun to take over the organization of large operations.

My memory is not so clear about this next bit: I think that in days gone by there was no charge if you wanted Canada Post to redirect your mail when you go to your cottage for an extended period.  Either there was no charge at all, or a very minimal one.

Today such a redirect service is still available.  It’s handled by computer.  And it costs $50 for two months.  You can set it up at your local postal outlet by filling out a complex form in triplicate, or you can arrange for it online, and pay with your credit card.

On June 28th, the day before we were to leave Winnipeg, I realized that I had not yet arranged for my mail to be forwarded to the cottage.  Mind you, these days I don’t get many fascinating letters – those come by email – but there are bills with serious penalties for missed payments, plus some interesting magazines and newsletters.

Anyway, because there was quite a lot to do on our last day in Winnipeg, once I remembered to forward the mail, I decided that the quickest solution was to do it online.

A Rural Delivery Address
an old green roadside community mailbox
Our Rural Mailbox
(ours is the fourth compartment down, on the right)
I have a mailbox here at the lake (see inset).  It’s on a forest road and looks like it has been there for years; but it works.  A driver comes each day and puts mail in it, and takes away any outgoing items.

Obviously, therefore, there is a postal address for our mailbox: 28 Sentier Baines, RR#2, Grenville-sur-la-Rouge, QC, J0V 1B0.  It’s an odd combination of rural route and street address.

I find it amusing that my cottage is listed as “28 Sentier Baines”, 5 because it gives the impression that we live on a road, when we do not.  We are deep in the forest.  Baines trail runs nearby but it’s on the other side of a mountain.  However, the powers that be in the municipality have assigned us that number on that road, and so that’s our address.

The online form to set up mail forwarding is easy to find, and fairly straight forward.  But there is a problem.  As soon as I enter RR#2, the form refuses to accept the street address of “28 Sentier Baines.”  It wants section and range – something that I would have to search for on my title deed (and, why should I, since that’s not my address?!).  No street and house number are permitted on the online form if the address is part of a rural route!

What should I do?

I decide to enter “RR#2” and assume that my driver – who has delivered my mail for several years now – will know what to do.

I enter the payment information and get an emailed receipt for the money, and that took care of that!

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A Pleasant Six Day Journey to the Cottage
We left the next morning, and drove to Toronto.  Admittedly, this is an extremely roundabout way to go to our cottage, but there were some things that we needed to pick up in Toronto at our daughter Ariel’s, so we made the best of it.  We had a lovely dinner with Rachael and Michael Green; a brief visit with David and Josy Jamieson (a young couple who are part of our extended “family”); and then a two day stay at the summer home of my lifetime friend, Patrick Gray and his wife, Cathy Carlyle.  Finally we arrived at the lake, six days after leaving Winnipeg.

I checked the mailbox.  Nothing in it.  Well, we had just had the Canada Day long weekend, so I didn’t really expect to find anything yet.

For the next eight days I checked the mailbox whenever I left the lake, but it remained silently and stubbornly empty.

When a full two weeks had passed since I submitted the online form and paid my $50, I phoned Canada Post.  A cheerful chirpy young woman told me that I really ought not to expect to see anything for at least two more days.

“But it’s already been fourteen days!” I said, astonished, remembering the era of “next day delivery.”

She replied with a long song and dance about the Canada Day weekend, and how mail from Winnipeg to the Province of Québec would normally take five business days at a minimum.  Five???  Really???

She went on the computer, found my file, and pronounced that six items had indeed been processed and tagged and sent on their way to RR#2, Grenville-sur-la-Rouge.  I was to be patient.

I mentioned my problem with the online form, and how it refused to accept my street address.  In response, she proceeded to return to the computer to look up 28 Sentier Baines.  This took a while, because although this lady is very chirpy and positive, she usually didn’t let me get a word in edgewise, and had trouble spelling my street name.  Computers, brilliant and speedy though they may be, will only give you what you ask them.  If you type “Senter Beans” you will not find “Sentier Baines.”  As it turns out, she had to type “Sent. Baines” before she found it.  It took a while.

Only when she had satisfied herself that 28 Sentier Baines actually exists did she agree to add this street and house number to my file.  I really wanted it added, because something told me that the lack of it might also be a factor in the delay of my mail.  She didn’t want to admit that my mail was actually “delayed”, but she did eventually add “28 Sent. Baines” to the computerized system that labels my forwarded mail.

More days passed with nothing in the mailbox.  Indeed the day that Ms. Chirpy was certain it would arrive came and went, and nothing showed up in the box.

So I went down to the main post office of Grenville-sur-la-Rouge.  There I met a nice woman named Lynn, who had grown up in Grenville with an English mother and a French father, and who was therefore fluent and accent-free in both languages.  She looked into several bins and said, “Nothing is sitting here for you.  Our driver, Leonard, is finished for the day now, and tomorrow’s Saturday, but when he comes in on Monday I’ll ask him about it, and I’ll call you.”

Monday morning early my phone rang.  It was Lynn.  “Leonard is here, and he says he’s seen nothing here at all for you.”  I said, “Did you mention that my street address, 28 Sentier Baines, is not on the forwarding labels?”

I’m certain that, on my visit to her post office, I had told her about the absense of the street address, but now I could hear her breath suck in.  Only partially covering the receiver with her hand, she spoke rapidly in French to someone nearby.  I heard a female voice answer in French, and even before Lynn translated I knew:

all of my mail had been seen by that other woman,
and had been Returned to Sender by her, because it had an incomplete address.

I’m getting my mail now.  The computer-generated labels all have “28 Sent. Baines” on them.  Those first six pieces, without that all-important street address, have disappeared without a trace.

And I have submitted a complaint to Canada Post (a) about their web form; and (b) about charging me $50 for this merry-go-round.  I think that a refund of some kind would be appropriate, though I haven’t seen one in my mail yet.

Mind you it’s only been ten business days.

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4  Next day delivery was available for all ten of Canada’s provinces.  The Arctic, Yukon and Northwest Territories were not as blessed.
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5  The English translation of this address is “28 Baines Trail.”  As this was the original name of the forest road, putting either “Sentier Baines” or “Baines Trail” on an envelope will work.
Click here to get back to the narrative.

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